Which hitters reach favorable counts?

By Andrew Kyne

On the most recent episode of the SIS Baseball Podcast, our guest Mike Ferrin talked about analyzing ball-strike count management among hitters.

Specifically, which hitters get themselves in favorable counts, like 2-0, 3-0, and 3-1? And which hitters then do damage in those plate appearances? Let’s try to find out.

For 2019, here are the ten players who have reached 2-0/3-0 or 3-1 in the highest percentage of their plate appearances (minimum 200 PA).

BatterOverall PAPA w/ HCPct.wOBA
Justin Smoak2617829.9%.432
Cody Bellinger3379929.4%.508
Carlos Santana3419828.7%.499
Mike Trout34910028.7%.685
Joey Gallo2276528.6%.544
Mookie Betts37710728.4%.558
Daniel Vogelbach3048628.3%.500
Rhys Hoskins3509928.3%.581
Tyler White2065627.2%.399
Kendrys Morales2015426.9%.398

The wOBA column represents their weighted on-base average in those plate appearances in which they got to a favorable count (but didn’t necessarily end the PA in one of them). So, in the 100 plate appearances in which Mike Trout got to a 2-0/3-0 or 3-1 count, he has an absurd .685 wOBA.

Being a power hitter with exceptional plate discipline is a good way to make this list. But not everyone has ended up doing damage in those plate appearances, as you can see with Tyler White (who has a 91 wRC+ overall on the year) and Kendrys Morales (who has a 63 wRC+ overall and was just designated for assignment by the Yankees). Justin Smoak tops the list in terms of getting into favorable counts, but his wOBA is lagging a bit behind the others as well.

The other seven players have been among the best at not only getting into hitter-favorable counts, but also finishing with success, all recording a wOBA of .499 or better in those PA. Trout, Rhys Hoskins, Mookie Betts, and Joey Gallo have been especially good.

Here’s a look at the relationship in 2019 between getting into favorable counts and then having success:

Getting into counts like 2-0 and 3-1 is certainly good for hitters, but is it a repeatable skill? Between 2017 and 2018, there was a strong year-to-year correlation (r = 0.76) for hitters with 400+ PA in each season.

Between 2018 and 2019, Gallo has had one of the most significant increases in generating plate appearances with favorable counts, going from 20% to 29%. Pitchers are surely fearful of his power, and it helps that he’s cut his chase rate from 32% to 23%.

On the other side, Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez has had one of the sharpest declines, going from 29% to 22%. After turning in consecutive seasons with a 146 wRC+, Ramirez is hitting just .216/.310/.329 in 2019.

Finally, what about the ability to repeatedly do damage in plate appearances with a favorable count? The correlation isn’t as strong here (r = 0.33) but still positive.

It’s good for hitters to be in favorable counts, and there’s evidence that being able to get into those situations may be consistent from year to year. That’s perhaps not a surprising conclusion, given batter quality and plate discipline, but it’s ultimately another important piece in hitter evaluation.

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